This post is about branding in the asset management space, but we’ll start with a quick detour to an industry that is much more widely known: coffee.
Thanks to the success of Starbucks, many of us have become addicted to coffee in the last 20 years. There may never be another company quite like Starbucks. It produces $23 BILLION in revenue; almost 10 times as much as the next biggest players: Lavazaa, Costa Coffee, Peet’s, Dunkin’, and Caribou Coffee. Add up all of the revenue of these companies and they don’t even total anywhere close to the annual number Starbucks produces. It’s crazy!
Yet, walk into any of those chains and they all have a very similar look and feel as Starbucks. They offer a “me-too” menu that includes a plethora of sandwiches, yogurts, and baked goods in an attempt to get the highest number of people into their “stores.” These players made the choice to mimic the iconic brand in the hopes of stealing some of their profits, but have yet to be successful in doing so.
The competitive landscape of the coffee industry doesn’t differ so much from the industry we live and breathe at Imagineer: asset management. Last year the combined assets of the world’s 500 largest asset managers reached $93.8 trillion, and 43% of that is controlled by the top 20 firms. You’ve probably heard of some of them - BlackRock, Bridgewater, Citadel, to just name a few.
What’s interesting is these top performing funds only account for a small percentage of all the funds in the industry. And while their assets continue to grow, the rest of the thousands of firms out there are struggling to grow assets, and in some cases, even stay afloat. You may be asking yourself, for a trillion dollar industry, how come so few firms are able to capture the investable capital? The answer is simple really: for the thousands of fund managers out there trying to become the next iconic asset management firm, they too often succumb to the same strategy that looks and feels “me-too.”
Here’s how good coffee shops and asset managers can differentiate themselves through thoughtful brand strategy:
1. Dare to Be Different
Provide an entirely original and focused menu that doesn’t copy other shops. Costa, Caribou, Peet’s, and Starbucks are remarkably similar inside their cafes. That’s a problem. Most hedge funds, private equity funds, and RIAs look alike, too. From the logo, embossed Patagonia vests, and formatting of their pitch books and city-scape-laden websites, to the source of their investing edge, it’s all the same. Sure, these elements might seem superficial, but how do you expect to stand out among the other couple hundred managers vying for the same investor dollars? Choosing a unique mix of colors, imagery, and, most importantly, a unique name (a.k.a. don’t name your fund after a tree, we have enough of those) champions the story behind your firm and brand.
2. Offer Something Unique
Boutique coffee shops focus on acquiring the highest quality and most diverse inputs — beans, milk, syrups, etc. — and combining them to make unique tastes while cultivating unique experiences. Asset managers can do the same. It’s not just your brand that should be different, but your offering as well. Stop competing directly with other shops and start by providing something unique, and then work to maintain that differentiation. Work in tailored offerings, specialized reporting, or any other factors that can help support your brand and unique value proposition in the marketplace.
3. Get Digital
Look at the way Starbucks markets relative to the other brands. Now, take a look at the top 10 to 15 hedge funds, private equity managers, and long-only shops. Notice anything? These firms are out there on the internet and social media, telling their story, sharing important milestones, and demonstrating their thought leadership prowess.
Not having a web presence is detrimental to any fund’s brand, because if you aren’t the one out there telling your story, who will be?Large Asset Managers like Citadel and Bridgewater not only do they have fabulous websites that tell their story well and share relevant, thought leadership content but they also have built a thoughtful, prominent social media presence.
4. Provide More Value Than the Competition
Most of Starbucks’ chain-style competitors compete on price. That’s not going to work in the long run, and it’s not something that asset managers should do either. Competing on price will not create any long term customer value or meaningful sentiment towards your brand. In addition to beating benchmark returns, in today’s competitive environment, you need to come up with something else to give clients to create an attractive brand. Industry research, market insights, cars for all of your investors. Something to set yourself apart and demonstrate your value.
5. Produce a Positive Client Experience
While many coffee shops are hurting themselves by simply copying Starbucks, there are some that are doing a good job of carving their own paths. Philz, Sawada, and other boutiques are successfully building brand loyalists by being nothing like Starbucks. Providing a fantastic customer experience and a unique product are the focal points of their operations. Hopefully, you’re in the asset management game because you love making other people money so they can live happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives, and you know that when they win, you win. With that mindset, it is easier to build a sustainable company and profitable strategy by keeping the client at the center. With those factors in place, articulating your brand’s story and value proposition becomes that much more clear and attractive to investors, who know that you have their best interests in mind.
These five tips sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how many asset managers — or coffee shops — don’t even attempt to implement them.
Take some time and think through how to:
- Be different.
- Offer something unique.
- Get digital.
- Provide more value than the others.
- Deliver a positive client experience.
Have any questions about how you can take these steps to stand out in your industry? Leave a comment or send us an email and I’d be happy to discuss more.